My dad died in February. He was 91. Both facts continue to surprise me. We all thought he would live forever and he never seemed to get old. The grief gets easier with each day and now, 8 months later, I can reflect on his life.
He was born in 1928 in Warrington, the youngest of 6 children. His dad, my grandad, was a blacksmith. My dad left school at 16, did his National Service in the RAF and then joined Barclays Bank where he stayed until he retired at 60, working at various branches around Manchester and Liverpool. They don’t make careers like that anymore.
Dad was a good piano player and loved playing jazz and music from his youth. One of my earliest memories is lying in bed listening to him playing “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” and he was still playing right up to his death. He was also a talented woodworker and made a lot of the furniture in the house with wardrobes, chests of drawers, kitchen tables, book cases and more being produced in his small shed.
He had a wicked sense of humour and was still putting toy spiders in my daughter’s bed the last time we visited him. He loved the Stanley Holloway monologues, could recite “Albert and the Lion” by heart and did so at his 90th birthday. Our family life was filled with fun, laughter and practical jokes.
His mind never failed him and he always took an interest in current affairs and the lives of his family. He taught us good values, a strong work ethic and how to behave sensibly with money. Occasionally this could be taken too far like when he decided a few pence could be saved by melting the crumbling remains of shoe polish back into a useable lump on the kitchen stove. The shoe polish caught fire, followed by the kitchen floor and wider disaster was only narrowly averted.
He was always very fit. I remember having a press up competition with him when he was 64 and I was 19 which was a perfectly normal thing to do in our house. We eventually called it a draw at 50 which seemed unremarkable at the time. We did a lot of hillwalking and cycling as a family and he was still walking a mile or so everyday before he died.
His life was not always easy. His eldest brother died in Normandy in 1944, his eldest sister died of rheumatic fever a few years before that and his youngest sister drowned at a young age. They were a close family, as were we. His first marriage ended in divorce and estrangement from his daughter, my half sister. Yet he remained positive, was always supportive, he never judged and he tried to help people whenever he could. He was not outgoing and it took him a while to get to know people, but once he decided he liked you he would never forget you.
I last saw him alive in late January, as fit as ever and with no indication that the end was close. Indeed he was fit and well the day before he died. He collapsed in the night and died four hours later without regaining consciousness. I said goodbye to him on a cold February morning having driven through the night and arrived too late.
An ordinary life, an ordinary man. Or maybe not. I’m proud that he was my dad and any sadness is tinged with relief that he didn’t suffer and that he didn’t know anything about Covid-19.